“If we want to keep bragging rights over the sheriff’s office and the fire department, we do.” Ben was a good bowler, and since he’d broken up with his last girl, most of his nights were free. Lois was a good bowler, too, but her husband wasn’t thrilled about her spending her free time with the guys from work.
“You know, Tim could come with you,” Sam pointed out.
She made a pfft sound. “Yeah, like you ever brought dirty-girl lawyer up here. Like you would bring Mee-lah-gro up here.”
Sam scowled. “What do you know—”
She waved him into silence. “Oh, please. Gossip is the heartbeat of this city, and I am the cardiologist who monitors it. You know I hear things.”
She had a pretty extensive network, too, because Cedar Creek had grown beyond its little-town boundaries a long time ago. “I don’t suppose any of your sources can tell you who the new killer in town is.”
“That’s ugly. We only gossip for good.”
“I imagine the victims would have thought it pretty good if you prevented their deaths,” Ben remarked.
“People aren’t quite sure what to think.” Lois tapped her red nails on the base of her beer bottle. “No one knew Evan Carlyle, so they find it hard to get really worked up over that, and just about everyone in town had wished evil on Curt Greeley, so it’s hard to get worked up over him, too. It’s murder, but it feels like murder with a purpose. Not like someone picking people at random.”
She was right. It did feel that way. But Sam didn’t have the luxury of caring how it felt. Every death was supposed to be as important to him as the last one.
“Isn’t there a rule about not talking business at these things?”
Both Lois and Ben made the pfft sound. Cops were biologically incapable of turning off work conversation in gatherings of two or more officers. It didn’t matter whether there was anything new to discuss, whether they’d argued the same theories or told the same stories a dozen times. It was their nature.
“Okay,” Lois agreed too cheerfully. “Let’s go back to talking about Mee—”
“She goes by Mila. Not MEE-lah. Just Mila. And let’s not talk about her, either.”
“Talk about who?” Simpson asked as he joined them on the bench.
“Chief’s new…” Ben frowned at Lois. “New what? Friend? Possible girlfriend? Interest? Project?”
Oh, Sam had a project, all right: to get to know Mila better than anyone else in the world. To make her relax. Smile. Laugh. Touch him back. To kiss her, hold her, see her naked, be seen naked by her. To have a—a thing. Not a fling. A relationship, even though he hated the word for its modern-day sensitivity. He wanted to sleep beside her. Wake beside her. To find out if she and I could become us. To maybe find a future and maybe not, but to have some fun and make some memories along the way.
Lois studied him, her lips pursed, then said, “I think we should call her his new interest. As in love interest.”
“As in ‘maybe involved with the murders interest,’ too.” Simpson snickered. “Lock her up downstairs. Sure makes it easy to know where she is any given time.”
Someone laughed, but Sam didn’t pay attention because his cell was vibrating in his pocket. As he pulled it out, he made his way through various first responders to a relatively quiet place just inside the main entrance. Leaning against the cinder-block wall, he answered.
“Hey, Chief, it’s Morwenna. We got a call for you, and she wouldn’t leave a message or her name, but you don’t normally get those sorts of calls, so I thought maybe you’d want to know about it even if there’s nothing to tell. I mean, really, what’s the point of calling if you’re not going to give your name so you can get called back? But, anyway…”
In addition to answering the nonemergency lines, Morwenna was also a dispatcher, at which times she was perfectly clear and succinct. In casual conversation, though, she couldn’t find her way to a conclusion without a road map. “Morwenna,” he interrupted. “Just tell me about the call. It was a woman—”
“Yes, how did you—Oh, because I said she. Very cop-ly of you, Chief. So she asked if you were in. I said no. She said oh. I asked if she would like to leave her name and number. I told her sometimes you call or stop in in the evenings, and if you did, you might call her tonight, but if not, it would certainly be in the morning. And she said no, thanks, it wasn’t that important. Hang on.” He heard her on another call, using what he considered her civic-duty-polite voice.